Life as the sibling of a child with a disability or chronic illness presents unique challenges that can fuel a wide range of emotions, such as fear, jealousy and sadness.
But the experience also can offer valuable lessons about love, empathy and compassion that can help a child become a caring and responsible adult.
How can parents care effectively for a sick or disabled child while providing a positive and nurturing family environment and showing they love all their kids equally?
Clear and honest communication is critical, said Lacey Lemke, Psy.D., a pediatric clinical health psychologist at Amita Health Women & Children’s Hospital Hoffman Estates.
Parents should take time to explain to siblings of a sick or disabled child the nature and severity of the illness or disability. Address any misconceptions they might have. Keep the explanation simple, and avoid medical jargon, especially when talking with young children. Put their minds at ease about their own health and well-being.
Talk realistically about what they can expect in terms of their sibling’s needs and possible behaviors and their likely effect on day-to-day family life, Lemke said.
Let them know you understand how they might feel scared, angry or resentful about the situation. Reassure them that their needs, as well as family activities, will remain a priority, and that they will not be lost in the shuffle.
At the same time, emphasize how important it will be for everyone in the family to be caring, understanding and supportive toward each other.
Reinforce these messages regularly, and make sure to follow through on specific commitments to your kids, Lemke said.
To ensure you can do so, plan ahead and create a routine for your family. Get into the habit each weekend of mapping out the…